Lucia Bok, the achingly troubled character at the heart of Mira T. Lee's Everything Here Is Beautiful, is recently out of grad school and working at a newspaper until she begins to babble "on about serpents and spies." Soon after, Lucia is found sitting atop a manhole cover, disoriented and singing. She's involuntarily committed to a hospital psych ward for a month. Her disorder, never officially diagnosed in the novel, haunts her for the rest of her life and terrifies all who care about her. But between descents into psychosis, Lucia's fierce passions—for New York City; for her sister and their dying Chinese immigrant mother; for the men she loves; for her daughter, Esperanza; for the Peking duck and spareribs she was raised on—are impossible for anyone, least of all the reader, to resist. When Lucia observes that querencia "refers to that place in the ring where a bull feels strongest, safest...the place we're most comfortable, where we know who we are," we totally get it. That Lucia so rarely experiences that sense of ease makes us feel her vulnerability all the more.
Astonishingly, this is Lee's debut. There's not a false note to be found, and everywhere there are nuggets to savor. During a moment of contentment with Manny, her daughter's father, as the two lick cake frosting from their fingers and share a beer on a summer night, the Portuguese word saudade springs to Lucia's mind. "It's not exactly nostalgia," she thinks, "there's more of a longing in it, for a feeling or way of life that may be impossible to recapture." That longing is what sets in upon reaching the book's last pages. Why did it have to end?